“Something that I would like to share with my students is: You can lose every material item in your life, but no one can take your education. This was told to me by one of my favorite aunts (a professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania). I have carried this advice with me through the proverbial thick and thin of life. If I could have my students take anything away from my class/ teachings is: you have to cherish your education and constantly improve and expand your education. The reason being, there will be times in life where the world seems to be against you, and the only thing you may be able to rely on is your own education. If you have continued to learn and grow, these tough times may not be as tough as they seem; due to one being able to use their prior knowledge and problem solving skills.” –Colby Way
Colby Way is one of two teachers at Port Graham School in a community of fewer than 200 people across Kachemak Bay, near Seldovia. He teaches all subjects to a wide range of ages, grades five through 12. He’s been a teacher for six years, five of which have been in Alaska.
Colby began teaching in Pennsylvania, after attending West Chester University and Lock Haven University. He fell in love with teaching 17 year ago, when he was put in charge of running the kindergarten-level swim lessons. He says, “Teaching a child to do something they will know for the rest of their life sparked my interest. I was hooked.”
When he began his teacher career in earnest, Colby and his wife spent a year teaching at a small, private school in the Marshall Islands. After that, they came to Alaska. Colby says, “Living and working in a rural Alaska community requires one to be involved outside of the classroom. How the community perceives a teacher can be aided by just getting out and exploring.”
Colby and his wife attend community events, like pot lucks, open gym, dances and meetings. And they hunt and fish, of course, always inviting other community members to join. He also coaches the school’s cross-country running team–and, in fact, last year was the first year in school history that Port Graham had an official team of any kind.
Colby is using his experience in integrating school and community through his coaching. His cross-country team will be inviting community members and elementary-school students to join the student athletes in a community health initiative in which community members will have a choice of running, walking or biking along with their team during the off-season.
In the classroom, Colby uses the same charisma to teach a wide age-range of students. His fellow teacher says Colby is exceptional. “He can work with a senior on graduation, then turn around and help a sixth-grader with plotting points on a line.” Because Colby has to teach all subjects, again from basics to senior-level courses, he incorporates lots of fun into his teaching. His students have successfully raised salmon from eggs, did an entire field-to-table science unit with rabbits, started a student council program from scratch, and many other hands-on projects – all while also teaching the core curriculum.
His fellow teacher says, “If you’ve ever met Colby, you know he’s a presence. Colby dedicates his entire year to his students. He bonds with the students on a personal level and he always wants them the succeed.”
“Mr. Colby Way is one of those teachers who is a sterling exemplar of both the art and skill of teaching,” said Nancy Kleine, principal. “He is sensitive to every student’s needs as if the details of their education are essential for his masterpiece of who they are and can become. He is amazing amongst his fifth through twelfth grade students, never missing a beat, always in action, as he assesses and meets everyone—small or tall—at their current level, sets a high bar, builds confidence, and moves them forward. Mr. Way challenges every student through highly intentional project-based learning. An avid athlete, Mr. Way astutely initiated the “just right” sport for this small village: cross country running. To do this, he involved the entire community, enticing them into a running club to promote health, great relationships, and support for runners on the middle and high school teams. Port Graham is exceedingly fortunate to have Mr. Colby at the helm of their young adults’ education. His students will remember him always as the one who taught them how to keep trying and to live generously.”
This year’s nominees were again, an excellent representation of our staff as a whole,” said Sean Dusek, superintendent. “They are humble, hard-working and student-centered. They are willing to go above and beyond to help students succeed and reach their full potential.”
“BP is proud to honor these great teachers and their tireless work in the classroom,” said BP Alaska Regional President Janet Weiss. “We see it as part of our ongoing commitment to the communities where our people live and work – and an investment in the people who help make Alaska great.”
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District BP Teachers of Excellence winners are:
- Stephanie Cronin, Seward High School
- Jonathan Dillon, Mountain View Elementary School
- Barbara Larrivee, West Homer Elementary School
- Meredith McCullough, Kenai Central High School
- Colby Way, Port Graham School
Congratulations, Colby Way, BP Teacher of Excellence!